Alice Cooper is often credited with being the originator of “shock rock” but there were at least two rock provocateurs who preceded him: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and “God of Hellfire” Arthur Brown. While there were plenty of crazed novelty acts that fell into the “one hit wonders” category, Hawkins (who died in 2000) and Brown (still alive) have stood the test of time. In the case of both men, the “shock” aspect of their performances often transcended over-the-top theatrics to become a kind of pop culture ritual magic. Underneath the spook show surface, there was something genuinely unsettling but ultimately liberating in their art. When Hawkins put a spell on you there was a good reason to be concerned. The bone in his nose may have been for laughs, but there was the sound of the graveyard in his subterranean growl. And Arthur Brown put more than just a dram or two of mystical gasoline in his flaming crucible. His crazy world IS crazy. A showman, shaman and satirist, Brown can invoke powerful mojo with a wave of his spidery hand.
In June of 1971, Arthur Brown performed at the Glastonbury Fair rock festival. A motley gathering of hippies, easy riders and suburban sadhus, the festival was a mini-Woodstock in renaissance fair drag. Swarming with enough body hair to carpet the moon and more mud-encrusted nude men than a mosh pit at Kumbh Mela. The gathering was a group grope of epic proportions where men seemed to outnumber women by at least two to one. Pink void meets the sausageful of secrets.
Fifteen years later events like these would inspire punks to declare “kill the hippies.” So it is quite surprising that the filmed document of the festival, Glastonbury Fayre, isn’t an acid reflux of The Summer Of Love but an engrossing slice of cinema. Despite puke-inducing scenes of flower power gone to seed, stoned freaks blathering cosmic gibberish and a cringe-inducing appearance by the slimy Maharaj Ji—the Justin Bieber of gurus—Glastonbury Fayre manages to capture something bordering on the magical. The festival took place a mere 50 miles from Stonehenge and the movie is appropriately stoned and unhinged.
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